After much serious theatre this winter and a week of ice-rage, Neptune Theatre’s Noises Off is a great tonic.
Director Jeremy Webb, himself, points out that this pure comedy is the exception to a season – his first as artistic director – of “plays curated to provoke some pretty high-stakes and emotional responses.”
Not Noises Off. Michael Frayn’s hit 1982 comedy — last seen in Nova Scotia at the Atlantic Theatre Festival in 2006 — features the on- and off-stage shenanigans of a threadbare, English, touring theatre company staging a farce that its director proclaims is, just like life, “all about doors and sardines.”
Mary-Colin Chisholm, Sarah O’Brecht and Kirstin Howell in Noises Off. (Stoo Metz)
With an all-star cast of local favourites and a spectacular set, this comedy snaps off the page like laundry in a stiff wind.
It has all its required breakneck speed and comedic power with a flair for theatrical showmanship and a love of British farce by its director Webb, who is a Brit.
The fun of Noises Off is seeing a farce, called Nothing On, performed on stage and then, with a revolve of the set, in this case with flashing lights, Star Wars-esque music and theatrical smoke, the same farce performed with the actors backstage.
At this point the actors are fighting amongst themselves and panicking as they still try to fly through all those doors and fetch all those plates of sardines to pull off their last performance of Nothing On.
Mary-Colin Chisholm shines as the upset, diva-type Dotty, whose classic British house-keeper character is central to Nothing On. Joining her onstage is her real-life partner Christian Murray, also a local comedic powerhouse, playing the overwrought Garry, who has been in love with Dotty and fumes at her possible affair with another actor. It’s a wonderful performance of pent-up and unleashed rage.
Webb has brought beloved, veteran actor Walter Borden, now a Canadian star, back to Neptune after 20 years to perfectly play Selsdon, the alcoholic, aging, master thespian everyone wants to save from himself. Borden gives Selsdon his booming voice and playful, cagey character.
Starring in Noises Off are, front, Christian Murray and Mary-Colin Chisholm; back, Kirstin Howell, Theofani Pitsiavas, Sarah O’Brecht, Bill Carr and Walter Borden. (Stoo Metz)
This tight-knit ensemble needs and has a lot of physical theatre smarts as well as a gift for the smaller comedic moments with Karen Bassett as the sad stage manager Poppy, veteran comic actor Bill Carr in a welcome return to Neptune as the uptight, selfish director, Kirstin Howell as the dumb blonde starlet, Theofani Pitsiavas as a kindly actor who faints at the mention of the word blood, Sarah O’Brecht, who was in Mamma Mia!, as the kindly actress frantically trying to hold the show together, and Tom Gordon Smith, as the exhausted technical director who must sub in for the burglar.
Smith is a star comedic actor and fan favourite at Shakespeare by the Sea, as well as its technical director – a bit of art imitates life.
The design features John Dinning’s fabulous concoction of a set with stairs, doors and wooden floors and furniture done in blues, turquoises and different shades of wood; timeless, colourful costumes by Helena Marriott and a cool lighting design by Ingrid Risk with sound design by Jesse MacLean, co-artistic director at Shakespeare by the Sea.
Noises Off does not touch the heart but it sure tickles the funny bone. It runs to March 17 on the Neptune mainstage. Try the sardini cocktail at intermission.